Culture is collectively the values, beliefs, and practices built through the communication of what defines its identity. It is essentially a self-concept shared by a group of people. Through trades, conquests, globalization, and intercultural mingling, cultures no longer exist in isolation. A business’s strong point is knowing how to give value to these differences and operate within such diversity. Therefore, effective intercultural communication is key to business success.
Intercultural communication refers to the interaction between individuals from different cultures. It is an intersection of approaches from different disciplines: psychology, sociology, linguistics, anthropology, and communication. Intercultural communication is most visible in the differences of cultures in the interpretation of verbal and non-verbal linguistics.
Since each culture operates under different laws and philosophies, misunderstandings can be common. This shouldn’t become the norm. One might risk offending the other because of the lack of know-how about the other’s background. Therefore, cross-cultural interaction requires effective communication skills and an understanding of different cultures. And an important step to understanding why people behave a certain way or value a construct differently is to look at the history of their culture.
These days, people are becoming more sensitive to cultural and social differences. We are also beginning to see the beauty of other cultures. There are several reasons to practice a custom or belief outside our own. We do it to pay homage, to appreciate, to learn and gain insight, as well as to commemorate cultural diversity. However, people didn’t have much respect for diversity in the past as we do today.
Blackface and Racism
Books paint African people with distinct physical features: dark skin, black curly hair, and pronounced lips. These are just their natural morphology as influenced by environmental conditions, biology, and genetics. Yet these are the traits that white American people in the past were making fun of them for through different entertainment media. The exaggerated portrayal of these features was accompanied by prejudicial comedy based on the belief that the darker-skinned are subservient to fair-skinned people. Because blackface stands as a reminder of centuries of discrimination and violence against people of African descent, it is racist and offensive to sport today.
Therefore, when companies and famous personalities are reported to wear the blackface, backlash will inevitably ensue. Clothing company Gucci received criticisms about their balaclava turtleneck sweater that can be pulled up to cover half the user’s face. The sweater had an opening around the mouth which was outlined red. The look resembled blackface. The company has apologized and removed the item from their stores.
Just because a condemned practice is no longer prevalent today doesn’t mean that we should forget the violence and oppression a group of people went through. There are still traces of these practices somewhere in the world, living in the harmful stereotypes and assumptions that seemed harmless to us. If we normalize the shallow treatment of their culture, we are impeding the global movement to end discriminatory practices against these groups.
When an organization chooses to ignore the implications of cultural diversity, things can only go south. You open the company to internal conflicts within the system. Tensions within the structure harm the integrity of your business. You are also vulnerable to committing offenses to your market, which may lead to losses and lawsuits. Therefore, it is only right and just to observe informed intercultural practices in the workplace.
Business should consider cultural diversity. in their decisions. Here are some of the blunders an organization makes but may fail to recognize and how to deal with them.
A person’s ability and capacity to perform is not defined by his or her race, ethnicity, nor nationality. For example, our hypothetical John chose to hire a Caucasian Jane than an African-American Jane on the basis of skin color. Another assumption is that non-native English speakers aren’t as good in communication as those who are. These stereotypes are both offensive and erroneous. Color and nationality never dictate one’s skills and career aptitude. These also do not predict success in the workplace. Instead, base your business decision on the qualifications and performance.
You have to do an audit of the company’s members. Acknowledge that these people came from different backgrounds and uphold a variety of social and behavioral norms. For instance, you have female members that identify as conservative Muslims. They may be required to wear hijab and modest clothing pieces, or they don’t do physical contact with men. The organization should honor and respect cultural differences like this, and act on any form of discrimination and offense rooted on these. Dialogue with different groups in the system to learn how the organization can cater to their culture.
There are limits to assumptions that you can make about a person based on his background and culture. For example, you can err in the side of caution and not prepare beef cuisines for the Hindu members of your company. However, you cannot assume that because they practice Hinduism, they also worship cows. Don’t act surprised when you offended them. Hindus respect the animal. For such cases, don’t act based on preconceived notions about a culture.
When you are building your brand image and enticing people to try what you have to offer, the last thing you would want is a backlash from well-meaning advertisements. The message in your beauty product ad may be about being content with one’s skin, but the people in the video or poster are all white women. Or you had a white person wear a darker shade of makeup and masquerading as dark-skinned. Do your research first about related constructs in your ads. In this case, research about the discrimination that people with darker skin faced will give you an idea of why blackface is offensive.
There should be a proactive and retroactive action against discrimination and offensive language in the workplace. Racial slurs are a form of verbal harassment and should not be tolerated in an organization’s environment as in other spaces. Offenses include using slurs that invoke one’s race, gender, nationality, religion, and disability as an insult. The company should make it a goal that the organization is well-informed and educated regarding the implications and effects of such actions, and there is a strict deterrent against offensive practices in the office.